London Calling: Britain's capital overflows with dairy destinations
Welcome to London, proud cheese capital of Europe. Forget about France, Italy and Spain; it’s all happening here in the United Kingdom. Like other elements of this city of 8.6 million, London’s cheese scene includes an eclectic mix of British and foreign, traditional and avant-garde, rough and refined, all jumbled together in a fondue-style melting pot.
Over the past century the British capital has become a top destination for artisan cheese—no accident. The combined effects of two world wars, followed by the rise of supermarkets in the mid-20th century, crippled the previously thriving dairy industry. Farm-made cheeses were largely replaced by factory-made cheeses that, confusingly for the consumer, frequently bore the same names as their predecessors. Unable to compete economically, many of the smaller producers ceased production. However, the rapid decline—and in some cases, extinction—of traditional British cheese was witnessed by a handful of trailblazers who decided to act.
Patrick Rance, author of The Great British Cheese Book, was among the first to draw attention to this crisis. In addition to writing about it, he opened a specialty cheese shop in Berkshire called the Wells Store. His example inspired others, including London-born James Aldridge, who established one of London’s first specialty cheese shops in the 1970s. Around the same time, Nicholas Saunders opened Neal’s Yard Dairy in Covent Garden. Randolph Hodgson soon took over the store and for more than three decades has played a pivotal role in the regeneration of the British artisan cheese industry.
Another early advocate of fine cheese from both the UK and continental Europe was author Juliet Harbutt. With the opening of her first store, Jeroboams, in the mid-1980s, she introduced a carefully curated array of (mainly French) cheeses to the public.
Londoner Patricia Michelson also contributed to the excitement about cheeses when she brought home a wheel of France’s Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage, a raw, alpine-style cow’s milk cheese. Michelson became so seduced by the cheese that she started selling it on a regular basis from her garden shed and went on to open La Fromagerie, a business now consisting of two thriving cheese shops. She still hand-selects and directly imports Europe’s finest cheeses—as well as a selection of American farmstead cheeses—and is responsible for starting the trend of on-site maturing rooms.
Thanks to these visionaries and many others, in 2013 London is home to thousands of cheeses from around the world. Bring your sense of adventure and an open mind to experience this incredibly diverse cheese culture. Rest assured: The quality will be unsurpassed.
Neal’s Yard Dairy
Neal’s Yard Dairy is world-renowned for British cheese, and rightly so. More than 70 artisan cheesemakers from across the British Isles and Ireland supply Neal’s Yard, and the extensive range amply demonstrates the skill of Britain’s dairy industry. Accomplished cheesemongers mature some of the cheese in-house, and anything you buy from the counter will be the best of its kind. You can taste almost any cheese and ask for recommendations. Terrific examples include Appleby’s Cheshire (the only traditional clothbound Cheshire still made in the UK), St James (a gooey washed-rind ewe’s milk cheese), and the Neal’s Yard Creamery goat’s milk cheeses (Dorstone, Ragstone, and Perroche).
Neal’s Yard Dairy 6 Park Street London SE1 9AB, +44 (0)20 7367 0799
Neal’s Yard Dairy 17 Shorts Gardens London WC2H 9AT, +44 (0)20 7240 5700
Paxton & Whitfield
Paxton & Whitfield is London’s oldest cheese shop (dating back to 1797) and still one of its finest. Indeed, “Paxtons” has supplied cheese to the British monarchy for over 150 years. The service is impeccable and the cheese, first class. Despite its age, Paxtons sells a range of modern cheeses from Britain and the rest of Europe alongside more traditional offerings. You’ll also find a selection of smart accessories, such as cheese knives and boards. End your trip to this fashionable part of London with a spot of tea at The Ritz or Fortnum & Mason, both just around the corner.
Paxton & Whitfield 93 Jermyn Street London SW1Y 6JE, +44 (0)20 7930 0259
Just off the exclusive Marylebone High Street is La Fromagerie, one of Britain’s most famous cheese shops. Enter this gastronomic paradise, and find yourself surrounded by beautiful fresh produce, delicatessen, charcuterie, and confectionary. The star of the show is the cheese room, stocked to the rafters with over 200 cheeses from around the world. Ask for a recommendation, but don’t forget to sample the shop’s signature Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage.
La Fromagerie 2–6 Moxon Street London W1U 4EW, +44 (0)20 7935 0341
La Cave Á Fromage
La Cave Á Fromage 24–25 Cromwell Place London SW7 2LD, +44 (0)20 7581 1804
Find this shop on a quintessential English village high street in Royal Hill; it stands in a row that also contains a greengrocer, a butcher, and a fishmonger. The customer base is loyal and local, but visitors are always welcome. Manager Robbyn Linden keeps the counter stocked with new and unusual finds. We love the spicy blue Spanish Picón Bejes-Tresviso, Italy’s amazing Gratin Naturale, and the goat’s milk cheeses matured in Poitou-Charentes, France, by expert affineur Paul Georgelet. The shop also holds popular tasting nights with Davy’s Wineshop and craft brewery Meantime.
The Cheeseboard 26 Royal Hill London SE10 8RT, +44 (0)20 8305 0401
Markets, Stalls, + Street Food
Borough Market has been selling fruit and veggies to Londoners since the 13th century. It now offers every type of produce imaginable, a delectable range of cooked food, and of course, cheese. There are about 15 different stalls selling cheeses from all over Europe, and you can easily spend a day admiring— and tasting—what’s on display. Stalls include Mons (a top French affineur); Gastronomica (an astonishing selection of Italian cheeses managed by trader Joseph Tchikou); The French Comté (the finest Comté around, plus saucisson); and Kappacasein (glorious grilled cheese sandwiches made with Montgomery’s Cheddar, Ogleshield, and Comté).
Borough Market 8 Southwark Street London SE1 1TL, +44 (0)20 7407 1002Boerenkaas + KäseSwiss
These two stalls specialize in cheeses from the Netherlands and Switzerland. Try Olde Remeker, which has butterscotch flavors; Tomme Fleurette, which is soft and gooey with farmyard notes; and Viamala, whose aroma of hay and hazelnuts takes you straight to Switzerland. Based in railway arches near the London Bridge station, the stalls mark the western end of Spa Terminus, a collection of wholesale artisan producers who open their doors to the public on Saturdays. The site is tricky to find, and located in a gritty area— making it appealing to dedicated foodies.
Through its recent revitalization, Brixton has metamorphosed from a bad-boy neighborhood into a foodie destination. Cannon & Cannon specializes in British cheeses and charcuterie, with such delights as Norfolk’s Binham Blue and Wigmore from Berkshire. Market Wines is Brixton’s first independent wine store. Try French & Grace for Middle Eastern cuisine, Okan for Japanese okonomiyaki pancakes, and Mama Lan for Beijing street food. For an authentic taste of the area, visit the Caribbean eateries.
Brixton Village & Market Row Brixton Station Road London SW9, +44 (0)20 7274 2990KERB
This street food community (whose name comes from a British spelling for “curb”) hosts over 40 traders who sell everything from kimchi burgers to meringues. Get a traditional English breakfast at Original Fry-Up Material and wash it down with a brew from Good & Proper Tea. Visit What the Dickens! for devilled kidneys (a Victorian dish of lamb’s kidneys in a spiced sauce). Homesick? Try Anna Mae’s Mac ’n’ Cheese or a Big Apple Hot Dog.
Owner Tom Harding started his business by bringing his favorite Welsh cheeses to London and selling them at stalls across the city. His collection keeps growing, and we’ve been promised some new cheeses by winter. Make sure you sample Tom’s own creation, Bermondsey Spa. This pungent gem with a peachy rind is washed in craft IPA made by the local Kernel Brewery. Also try homemade Welsh Cakes (perfect with Gorwydd Caerphilly) and the zingy Welsh rarebit made with Hafod Cheddar.
Daylesford Organic Farmshop & Café
A farm shop like no other, Daylesford is sleek and elegant with the sort of sophistication more commonly expected in Chelsea and Kensington. Most of the food for sale is grown or made on the farm in Gloucestershire, and fresh produce arrives daily. The award-winning cheeses are made with milk from the farm’s Friesian and Gloucester herd. We love the organic Daylesford Cheddar topped with the farm’s own butternut squash chutney. If you fancy a trip out of London, visit the farm for a country walk and lunch.
Daylesford Organic Farmshop & Café 44B Pimlico Road London SW1W 8LP, +44 (0)20 7881 8060The Gazzano’s
Since the Gazzano family opened this deli in 1901, it’s been something of an institution in the city. Come here for a real taste of Italy, with everything from olive oil and wine to meat and fresh truffle pasta. The cheese, sourced from all over Italy, includes pecorino, provolone, four types of Gorgonzola and the creamiest Mozzarella di Bufala.
The Gazzano’s 167–169 Farringdon Road London EC1R 3AL, +44 (0)20 7837 1586The Deli Downstairs
Husband and wife Theo and Sarah Fraser Steele refurbished this old Victorian delicatessen to its former glory in 2010. It’s bursting with handpicked local produce, including East London honey, breads, and chutneys that perfectly complement the selection of Continental cheeses. Pick up your favorite produce and some locally brewed London Fields beer, then head across the street to Victoria Park for a picnic.
The Deli Downstairs 211 Victoria Park Road London E9 7JN, +44 (0)20 8533 5006Champagne + Fromage
An appetizing display of Champagne, cheese, and charcuterie takes center stage at this shop and bistro in London’s Theatreland. The focus is on grower Champagne, artisan bubbly made by independent producers using grapes from their own vineyards. The menu is classic French with a twist and incorporates plenty of cheese sourced from Une Normande à Londres. Have an evening to spare? Sign up for a tasting experience, to be guided through a fabulous range of French cheeses and Champagne.
Champagne + Fromage 22 Wellington Street London WC2E 7DD, +44 (0)20 7240 1604Androuet
Nestled at the back of Spitalfields Market sits Androuet, owned by brothers Leo and Alex Guarneri. The tiny restaurant offers cheese-based dishes such as fried mozzarella with tomatoes concasse and haddock fish cake with Ogleshield. The special fondue—made with Schlossberg, Emmental and Fontina d’Aosta— is sublime. Leo Guarneri shares the secret: “We all have Michelin-star backgrounds, but our cooking is simple; we let the ingredients speak for themselves.” The adjoining cheese shop is beautiful, with an ever-changing selection.
Androuet Old Spitalfields Market: 107b Commercial Street London E1 6BG, +44 (0)20 7375 3168L’Art du Fromage
This chalet-style bistro’s most popular dishes are fondue and raclette, and both are served as “all you can eat” options (who wouldn’t love that challenge?). Owner Julien Ledogar hails from Alsace and takes pride in his traditional tarte flambée, which combines cream, onions, and other tasty toppings such as Strasbourg sausages, sauerkraut, bacon, and Muenster on a dough base. If that’s not enough cheese for you, choose from 40 French, Swiss, and Basque unpasteurized options to compose a board.
L’Art du Fromage 1A Langton Street London SW10 0JL, +44 (0)20 7352 2759
Established in 1890, Gordon’s is London’s oldest wine bar. Creep down the dark staircase into the candlelit stone cellar, and choose your own secret alcove for sipping and snacking. The award-winning wine list has something for every mood, but Gordon’s is best known for the barrels of sherry, port, and Madeira behind the bar. The cheese board is classic, plentiful, and varied enough to match your tipple of choice.
Gordon’s 47 Villiers Street London WC2N 6NE, +44 (0)20 7930 1408Vivat Bacchus Restaurant & Wine Bar
Vivat Bacchus is a modern European restaurant with a hint of the exotic, owing to its South African ownership. Keep an eye out for kangaroo steak and springbok burger, which appear on the menu among more common options. The cheese selection is exclusively European and includes a few cheeses from Portugal—unusual finds in London. A dedicated cheese room holds 50 varieties from which to create personalized cheeseboards. Eschew the wine list and ask for a tour of the cellar, where you can select a bottle from Vivat Bacchus’s 1,000-plus bins.
Written and curated by Sophie Austen-Smith + Lucy Gregory
Photographed by Mowie Kay